Studying business at Aalto University, Finland

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Business @ the Speed of Thought

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Business @ the Speed of Thought
Sunday, April 12th, 2015

After reading ’Business @ the Speed of Thought’, my respect for Bill Gates has increased exponentially. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t a fan of his before. I’ve always been impressed by the strategies that Microsoft carried out in its early days, but that doesn’t come close to how impressed I am now. In this book, published in 1999, Gates outlined how information systems, the Internet, and technology in general would change the way that businesses function. Along the way, he made some incredibly accurate predictions, most of which have since become huge industries: smart phones, smart homes, social networks, and an array of other uses for the Internet-a few of which have yet to be developed.

Gates presents a few key elements for a good information system. While we have to keep in mind that the book was written in the late 90’s, many of these questions are still hardly answered by today’s technology, and present opportunities for new businesses.

It should help you answer the questions:

  1. What do customers think about your products?
  2. What problems do they want fixed?
  3. What new features do they want you to develop?
  4. What problems do your partners have as they sell your products or do business with you?
  5. Why are your competitors winning business from you, and where is this happening?

In addition, utilizing technology allows undynamic things to become dynamic. Prior to computers and networks being utilized by businesses, things such as letters, pictures, financial reports, or designs for new buildings existed only on paper. Sharing, modifying, and getting feedback on these things took a lot of effort.

A good information system that allows for the sharing of knowledge can help a business in four major areas: planning, customer service, training, and teamwork. Today, we’re seeing highly valued startups focus on one or more of these elements. Take Slack, the team communication service. It focuses on the last area, teamwork. The other three seem to be missing key players. Could we see newly formed startups becoming large in these fields?

Gates also presents an interesting idea on how developed Internet based innovation actually is. When electricity was first introduced to consumers, the only application of it was operating lights. However, once the infrastructure was in place, new products gradually began to emerge. Electric refrigerators, air conditioners, phones, and televisions were introduced, and became essential parts of our lives (not to mention, huge industries). We can compare the Internet to early electricity. At the time of the writing, the infrastructure had been recently established, and the most obvious uses were being utilized. However, the real game changers were, and probably are, yet to be developed.

Lastly, before we get into the individual predictions, I found an example in the book interesting. At the time, Dell’s approach to customer support was to create and design over 5000 individual web pages for its big customers. This customization made it easier to support the individual needs of the clients. In today’s world, automizing this process would be quite simple. Could this be something that businesses would find useful?

Along similar lines, Gates mentions that early on, Microsoft developed something called MS Market for internal employees. On there, employees could order office supplies, books, whiteboards, business cards, software, and multiple other things they may need during their work. Again, this seems like it could be turned into a service that one provides to big businesses on its own.

But now, the fun part. Predictions from the book, written in 1999. When we consider the state of the computer industry back then, many of these are amazing.

Predictions

  1. Automated price comparison services will be developed, allowing people to see prices across multiple websites, making it effortless to find the cheapest product for all industries.
  2. People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are. They will be able to check the news, see flights they have booked, get information from financial markets, and do just about anything else on these devices.
  3. People will pay their bills, take care of their finances, and communicate with their doctors over the Internet.
  4. “Personal companions” will be developed. They will connect and sync all your devices in a smart way, whether they are at home or in the office, and allow them to exchange data. The device will check your email or notifications, and present the information that you need. When you go to the store, you can tell it what recipes you want to prepare, and it will generate a list of ingredients that you need to pick up. It will inform all the devices that you use of your purchases and schedule, allowing them to automatically adjust to what you’re doing.
  5. Constant video feeds of your house will become common, which inform you when somebody visits while you are not home.
  6. Private websites for your friends and family will be common, allowing you to chat and plan for events.
  7. Software that knows when you’ve booked a trip and uses that information to suggest activities at the local destination. It suggests activities, discounts, offers, and cheaper prices for all the things that you want to take part in.
  8. While watching a sports competition on television, services will allow you to discuss what is going on live, and enter contest where you vote on who you think will win.
  9. Devices will have smart advertising. They will know your purchasing trends, and will display advertisements that are tailored toward your preferences.
  10. Television broadcast will include links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching.
  11. Residents of cities and countries will be able to have Internet-based discussions concerning issues that affect them, such as local politics, city planning or safety.
  12. Online communities will not be influenced by your location, but rather, your interest.
  13. Project managers looking to put a team together will be able to go online, describe the project, and receive recommendations for available people who would fit their requirements.
  14. Similarly, people looking for work will be able to find employment opportunities online by declaring their interest, needs, and specialized skills.
  15. Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign. This will be efficient for both big companies that want to outsource work that they don’t usually face, businesses looking for new clients, and corporations that don’t have a go-to provider for the said service.

You can probably come up with services that were developed years later, doing almost exactly what one of these points predicted. Facebook, smart phones, Twitter, and freelance websites are all examples of technologies that fit into these predictions. Siri and Google Now are perfect examples of the personal companion concept, and haven’t reached the predicted potential yet.

While putting together this list, I saw some great opportunities. Do we really have a dominating service for points 15, 14, 13, 10, 8, 5, or even 1?

 

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